At the annual conference of one of the world’s leading accounting software companies in Chicago this week, big names were overshadowed by future technologies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
It’s not often that actors like Ashton Kutcher and Gwyneth Paltrow have to compete for attention with accountants, but they have an uphill task this week.
At the Sage Summit 2016 conference in Chicago this week, these big stars are due to participate in keynote events highlighting their ventures into high-tech start-ups in the next two days. However, the biggest news came in yesterday’s opening keynote address by CEO Stephen Kelly, who declared a technology revolution for entrepreneurs and business builders.
Kelly was under significant pressure to deliver: more than 15 000 entrepreneurs and small and medium enterprise owners make the Sage Summit the world’s largest gathering of entrepreneurs and business builders. He did not disappoint them.
After investing more than R2-billion in research and development over the past year, Sage unveiled a plethora of new mobile, social, chatbot and Internet of Things offerings. It also launched a new Sage Live page offering customers support, product offerings and pricing.
“With a more connected world comes new demands on our hero business builders,” said Kelly. “We are working on making concepts like the Internet of Things, machine learning, blockchain and data sciences into a reality for businesses, accountants and partners. This is way more than cloud and mobile-first. It’s designing and building technologies that truly power businesses, freeing entrepreneurs to grow and win.”
With, 100 000 accountants around the world using Sage software, along with numerous other user categories, much of the buzz was focused on the news that the company’s real-time accounting solution, Sage Live, will be integrated with cutting edge tools from sales software leaders Salesforce.
Sage also formally launched a new admin “bot” – an artificial intelligence conversation system built into instant messaging and social media platforms. Called “Pegg”, it is a smart assistant that uses conversation to let users track expenses via any messaging app.
“Pegg removes the complexities and enables entrepreneurs to manage finances through conversation,” according to a company statement. “By digitising information at the point of capture, it takes away the pain from receipts and expenses, eradicating the need for paper and data entry. “
The first social platform to integrate Pegg is Slack, a social network geared towards enterprise messaging and collaboration. However, users can also work with it in Facebook Messenger, which has led the market in introducing chat bots.
“With the rise of freelancing and the sharing economy, the number of small businesses is growing exponentially,” says Kriti Sharma, Sage’s global director for mobile product management. “Most of these business owners use messaging apps, and with Pegg we aim to bridge the gap between these apps and work, rendering accounting invisible to the end user and making running a business as simple as sending a text.”
One of the most visionary evolutions of financial software was demonstrated by Sage’s executive vice president for product marketing, Jennifer Warawa. She showed how Sage Live can be integrated with TomTom Telematics for businesses with any size vehicle fleet to record mileage and automate expense reports – without any human intervention.
By running on the Salesforce platform, it can use existing integrations with third parties like TomTom WEBFLEET and make service journey data automatically available in Sage Live.
While this in itself may not set pulses racing, the vision behind such integration suggests a near future where administration takes second place to the more serious business of, well, running a business. It is not intended to put accountants out of business, but rather to allow them to play a more strategic role in business growth rather than focus on the “hard labour” of coordinating documents, logs, and other activity information.
The CEO’s keynote also saw some hard-hitting criticism of the support structures provided by officialdom. For one thing, it emerged that South African businesses are not alone in feeling that government lets them down. Kelly unveiled research which showed American entrepreneurs expressing high dissatisfaction with the support they get from the US Government.
In case there was any lingering suspicion of the Summit being a mere public relations exercise, he also weighed in on the ineffectual role of official events like the World Economic Forum in Davos, which he dismissed as being “out of touch”.
This echoes the views expressed earlier this year by Anton Van Heerden, managing director of Sage in South and Southern Africa. In a post on LinkedIn, he wrote that important voices were being excluded from the conversations taking place at Davos: “those of the risk-takers, entrepreneurs and small business owners who are increasingly the major drivers of wealth and job creation around the world.”
As a result, Kelly announced this week, Sage would introduce a series of policy events around the world to focus on the real needs of entrepreneurs.
It is a risky move to take Sage beyond the world of software and into the realm of policy. However, it is clear that the quest to remain relevant to customers goes beyond technology.
Smart grids needed for Africa’s utilities
Power utilities across Africa should rethink their business models and how they manage and monetise their assets to keep pace with the changing energy ecosystem, says COLIN BEANEY, Global Industry Director for Asset-intensive and Energy and Utilities at IFS.
Africa’s abundant natural resources and urgent need for power mean that it is one of the most exciting and innovative energy markets in a world that is moving rapidly towards clean, renewable energy sources. The continent’s energy industry is taking new approaches to providing unserved and underserved communities with access to power, with an emphasis on smart technologies and greener energy sources.
Power systems are evolving from centralised, top-down systems as interest in off-grid technology grows among African businesses and consumers. And according to PwC, we will see installed power capacity rise from 2012’s 90GW to 380GW in 2040 in sub-Saharan Africa. Power utilities are needing to rethink their business models and how they manage and monetise their assets to keep pace with the changing energy ecosystem.
Energy and utilities providers are transforming from centralised supply companies to more distributed, bi-directional service providers. They can only achieve this through the evolution of “smart grids” where sensors and smart meters will be able to provide the consumer with a more granular level of detail of power usage. This shift from an energy supplier to “lifestyle provider” will require a much more dynamic and optimised approach to maintenance and field service.
African companies must thus embrace digital transformation as an imperative. This transformation begins by embracing enterprise asset management to improve asset utilisation. The subsequent steps are enhancing upstream and downstream supply chain management; resource optimisation; introducing enterprise operational intelligence; embracing new technologies such as the Internet of Things, machine learning, and predictive maintenance; and becoming a smart utility.
Embracing mobility to drive ROI
Getting it right is about putting in place an enterprise backbone that accommodates asset and project management, multinational languages and currencies, new energies and markets, visualisation of the entire value chain, and mobility apps. Mobile technologies that support the field workforce have a vital role to play in driving better ROI from utilities’ investments in enterprise asset management and enterprise resource planning solutions.
Today’s leading enterprise asset management solutions feature powerful functionality for mobile management of the complete workflow of work orders – from logging status changes and updates, from receiving and creating new orders to concluding the job and reporting time, material and expenses. Such solutions are easy to deploy and intuitive for end users to learn and use.
Importantly for organisations operating in parts of the continent with poor telecoms infrastructure, connectivity is not an issue. The solutions work offline and synchronises when network connectivity is available. Users can work on any device—laptops, tablets, and smartphones—commercial or ruggedised.
By ensuring that field technicians have easy access to information and processes, the mobile solution enables technicians and maintenance engineers to easily do the following tasks:
· Create a new work order on the fly and log new opportunities
· Access both historical and planned work information when requested
· Permit customers to sign when the job is completed
· Capture measurements and inspection notes on route work orders
· Create new fault reports on routing
· Facilitate documentation through photo capturing
· Provide easy access to technical data and preventive actions.
The power of mobility allows the engineer to be the origin of all data capture on a service event. They can easily inquire on asset history, record parts used or parts needed for repair, record labour hours, and expenses as they occur, and any notes of repairs performed. When coupled with workforce management tools, such solutions unlock significant productivity gains for utilities who are trying to get the most from their workforce and assets.
Brands fall for app vanity
The experience of a mobile screen full of icons, representing independent apps that your need to open to experience them, is making less sense. Instead, businesses should serve customers with an ‘app-like’ experience inside the digital platform they already use, says PIETER DE VILLIERS, Group CEO at Clickatell.
Many brands remain obsessed with creating mobile apps. This not only defies trends that point to increasing consumer app apathy, but can exclude a sizeable portion of your customers in emerging economies. Companies need to engage with their users where they are rather than forcing them onto an app, in what can only be described as brand vanity.
In 2017 there were around 2.2 million apps available in the iOS app store and over 3 million on Google Play. And, while the number of apps being downloaded continues to rise, analysis shows that consumers are only using 30 apps per month and accessing just 9 on a day-to-day basis.
While these numbers still seem attractively high, in reality the majority of the apps we use are for messaging (like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and WeChat) and our social networking, gaming, leisure, dating or utility activities.
Despite the facts, the application strategy as the holy grail for digital transformation is still being pushed even within large progressive brands. What’s more, some advertising agencies and digital consultants are still pushing apps as the best means for companies to connect with their customers. This has resulted in some organisations stubbornly doubling down on app strategies which are simply not showing return on investment (ROI).
It’s not immediately clear to us whether the fascination with apps is a roll-over from long overdue projects or whether brand owners equate a mobile-first strategy with a mobile app. Mobile-first in 2018 means customer first, and therefore embracing chat commerce in order to deliver services with convenience and simplicity in mind.
Why apps won’t win the internet
The problem with apps goes beyond user fatigue. In the first instance, many apps are poorly designed, assuming technical sophistication which may not match reality for the average customer. Poor user interfaces and attempts to provide complex engagement can result in even the best ideas missing their targets due to lack of engagement.
Secondly, we all know that economic realities drive consumer behaviour. In Africa, new mobile phone users typically opt for feature phones over smartphones. With a longer battery life and a much more accessible price point, feature phones still allow for a basic internet connection, chat platforms like WhatsApp, and call and message functionality. In these regions, the cost of an app – even if it’s free – goes far beyond installing it. Constant updates require reliable and cheap access to the internet. For the average phone owner in an emerging market, this can be a serious challenge.
Thirdly, and most importantly, apps must be relevant to their intended market. Frequency of usage is a key measure of relevance.
Apps which are used on a daily basis, like health and fitness trackers, enjoy constant engagement. New features which are added are eagerly awaited by users who are happy to update their apps.
However, users may well question the relevance of the app if they are required to conduct updates on a monthly or even weekly basis when they are only making use of the app once or twice a year.
On average, I download one app per quarter. Some I use more frequently than others, but all of these apps need to be regularly updated to maintain security, update features, and fix bugs. Many apps are pushing out updates much more frequently. I noticed over the past year that I could go from having all apps updated, to 32 apps requiring an update in five days.
When it comes to a customer-first digital strategy, companies should be asking themselves if an app is really the best way to reach their target audience.
In fact, at the end of 2016, Gartner predicted that by 2019, 20 percent of brands would ditch their mobile app. What’s more, in its 2018 predictions, the company forecast that by 2021, more than 50 percent of corporations would spend more per annum on bots and chatbots than on mobile app development.
So, we need to ask, what is the alternative for CIOs, CDOs, CMOs, and digital leaders who are looking for ways to reach, retain and grow their customer base?
The logical app alternative
The old battle advice goes: fight your enemy where they are not. Military strategists agreed that having your enemy come to you and fight you on your own terms was preferable. In a world where customers have access to thousands of offerings and millions of deals online, we need to flip that idea to Meet Your Customers Where They Are.
Any marketeer will tell you just a how difficult it is to drive app downloads. Development, cross platform testing and user interface aside, the marketing campaign required to get customers to download the app can swallow entire annual budgets and still come up short.
Looking at the facts, it makes infinitely more sense to work within the digital platforms already being used by your target audience.
Clickatell is already enabling chat commerce for some of the leading global brands with its Touch solution. This allows organisations to serve their customers with an ‘app-like’ experience inside the chat or browser platform of their customer’s choice (Twitter, Facebook Messenger, etc.)
Brands can now send an actionable Touch link such as ‘find the nearest ATM’ or ‘reset my password’ within a chat stream that will open an intuitive touch card without the user having to download an app to perform the action. Services can also be linked to the in-app experience for brands not looking to abandon their app efforts.
Working with our clients, many of whom are global innovators and thought leaders, we’ve found that having the courage to design with an ‘end user first’ approach and dealing with the back-end complexity behind the scenes results in cost efficient customer delight and ROI.